Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You say DMV, I Say SOSO

Whenever the characters of a television show or film say, "And I had to go to the DMV," it is obvious to an Illinoisan that that writer is not from Illinois. It's especially jarring when the script calls for the action to take place in Illinois; for example, the late television series ER. Illinois doesn't have a DMV; our motor vehicle issues are handled by the Secretary of State's Office, or the SOSO. And, when you have to go there, you may as well send up an SOS!

As in other states, the SOSO exists to handle all the licensing, tax and registration issues of the vehicles in the state. The SOSO (ironically, that's the quality of the service provided there...) also tests and licenses drivers here in Illinois. Today I had to go in and renew the license plates for our pick-up. This gets done every year and is anticipated with much the same joy as a visit to the dentist. Like the dentist, we have to go at least twice a year, because the plates for our cars expire in different months. Last year my driver's license expired, so I got the fun of heading into the SOSO for another visit mid-year.

Today's visit was as pleasant as can be expected. When you walk in the door, you can expect to be greeted by the personnel at the Information Desk, or the ID. In most establishments, the ID exists to give information; if you know what you're doing, you don't have to bother stopping. However, in the SOSO, the ID Desk exists more as a Gatekeeper. You have to talk to the personnel, tell them why you're there, ("I'm renewing my plates") show them the relevant paperwork to get the job done, ("Yes, I have my old registration and the mailing I got to remind me to come in") and then follow their direction to the letter (don't step to the left of the rope line if they tell you to step to the right, even if no one is there and the end result of your motion is the same.) In the past, I've had conversations like this; "Why are you here?" "To renew my driver's license." "You'll need your renewal paperwork, or else you'll have to go back home and get it." "I have it right here," pulling it out of my purse. "Oh." Their disappointment was palpable. There is some bit of joy involved when a member of the SOSO personnel sends someone out for further documentation. This is not bitterness on my part; this is actual observation of the grins they share when the "offender" leaves.

Today, shock of shocks, there was no one at the ID. Although there was a long line to transfer titles, the line to pay for the transactions at the cashier's window was very short, with only one person ahead of me in that line. As I headed toward the window, I fully expected to hear, "Stop! Where are you going?" behind me, but I did not. I paid my bill and was out within 5 minutes.

Not without feeling very juvenile and moronic, though. Another function of the SOSO personnel must be to make the people of Illinois feel like we've been hauled into the principal's office, or getting lectured by Dad. I asked a question today; big mistake. I asked why the plates I was paying for were cheaper than the plates I have to pay for at the end of the month. She held up my registration and pointed at the due date, "These plates expired on December 31," she said. (Yeah, I drove illegally in that vehicle for 6 days. But that's besides the point.) Her tone was the type reserved for explaining long division to fourth graders, or, worse, adding and carrying over to first graders. "The plates that expire at the end of January," (emphasis hers) are $20 more. After January 1, the price for plates is going up $20." (Emphasis again hers.) Now, I should have felt silly, not knowing that. I didn't because I haven't been paying attention to Illinois legislation news. I've been preoccupied with the Federal legislation news. No, my feelings of chastisement came from the tone with which she addressed me.

I just know I won't get to have dessert tonight, even if I do finish all my carrots.

1 comment:

Kim said...

I don't think we've lived anywhere where we had to go in to renew our plates, it's always been through the mail or the internet. In fact in CA they ask us not to come in.